AUTHOR’S NOTE: This episode has been phased out by the new episodes 3 and 4, which you can read here. This only exists for archival purposes.
Season One: Recursion
Episode Four: No Less
March 11th, P-132.
By the time I arrived in Colony 29, not only had whoever I’d been alerted to disappeared, but it was absolutely pouring. The last known sighting of the unknown figure giving off powerful surges of Dark energy was in the park downtown, which was empty at this time due to the storm.
As I walked through the grass of said park, the occasional bolt of thunder punctuating my steps, I was lost in thought, trying to figure out just where my target had fled to. I didn’t sense any remainder of their energy here, so they had covered their tracks- why, then, had people been alerted to them in the first place?
Did they want me to come here? Or someone else?
Just as I thought that, I became aware of a figure approaching me from behind. I turned to see none other than Michael Lockheart, one of the three missing Lockhearts, dressed in a black jacket with a soaked white shirt beneath, the ensemble finished with a pair of jeans and the handle of a sword hanging from his back.
Someone didn’t dress for the weather.
Thinking to my own black robes, which were made to conceal my energy signature when travelling, I realized I also wasn’t well dressed for the weather. Not intentionally, at least. It seemed to block out most of the rain.
“You know, buddy,” Michael Lockheart said, staring at me with his white-amber mismatched eyes and grinning widely, “This isn’t a costume party. There was a great one around here a few months ago, but walking around looking like that is gonna give people the wrong idea.”
Up until this point, I’d been watching him carefully, but his cavalier attitude forced a small chuckle out of me. “And you shouldn’t be around here at all,” I responded, “I’m searching for a fugitive from the law, see?”
His face changed at that. He tensed for the briefest second, likely thinking of his siblings, but that hesitation faded quickly. He raised an eyebrow and said, “I don’t see a badge on you, reaper-boy. You don’t look like Royal Guard to me. Don’t see what gives you the right to boss me around.”
Oh, but you’re about to.
I removed my hood.
The shock that crossed Michael Lockheart’s face was a beautiful thing to look at. In just a second, his arrogance disappeared to be replaced by a look of sheer terror. He knew very well who I was before I even opened my mouth, and that also meant he knew exactly what I could do.
“My name is Nalia Hector Cynd,” I said, emphasizing my surname just to solidify the feelings of fear I knew that he had, “And that alone gives me the right to boss you around.”
“Well, I’m sorry to get in your way, your Highness,” Michael said with mock sympathy, changing again to an arrogant smirk I desperately wanted to wipe off his face, “But my name is also sort of a big deal. The fugitive you’re after is family- my family. And I’m going to find them first.”
“Not if I kill you here,” I said flatly, trying and failing to hold back my anger, “Give me thirty seconds and I’ll have you bleeding out where you stand. Boy.”
The arrogant shit started laughing. “You aren’t the only proficient fighter here,” Michael said, grinning wolfishly and showing his teeth rather like I found myself doing, “I can’t say I’ve killed a royally-bred fuckboy with a scythe before, but there’s a first time for everything.”
I pulled my scythe off my shoulder and grasped it with both of my hands, holding it across my chest as Michael continued approaching me. We both knew what was going to happen here. My heart was beating out of my chest and I was so, so excited at the idea of ripping this guy apart.
“You have some heart, don’t you?” I mocked, already knowing who I was about to kill, “What’s your name?”
I want you to say it.
“Michael Lockheart,” he responded, unshaken, “And if you want heart, I can show you a lot more. I can show you yours when I rip it out of your chest.”
I lifted my scythe over my head and laughed, “So be it, Lockheart! Let’s see what you’re made of!”
For a brief instant, the rain continued to pour as we both remained still. Lightning flashed in the distance, and in the moment before Michael’s feet left the ground, the sound of the thunder reached us with a deafening clap.
As Michael rushed at me, I slashed downward, releasing a crescent of charged Dark energy from my scythe that carved through the dirt beneath our feet. I watched Michael’s eyes widen as the Darkness approached him, and my own did as I saw him dodge it, twisting around it mid-charge and continuing forward, unperturbed.
Shit, he’s fast.
I grasped my scythe at either end of its body, like a staff, as Michael entered melee range and immediately swung for my right side. I grit my teeth as I blocked the heavy blow with the body of my scythe, and I watched Michael carefully.
He adjusted his stance and rotated swiftly. In response, I moved my scythe to block my left side before his claymore crashed into it once again, this time almost hard enough to make me lose my footing. Before he could do that, I pushed with upward the left side of my scythe against his blade, forcing it upward before slashing down with the right.
This time he had to block, holding my scythe’s blade a precarious inch from penetrating his skull by pressing his left hand against the flat end of his blade (in addition to his right on the handle) and holding it against my scythe.
Despite how close he’d come to death, or perhaps because of it, he was shaking with excitement, a look of depraved joy on his face, his grin no less predatory now than it was before we started fighting.
I realized that I was no different. We were both soaking in the pouring rain, but every synapse in me felt like it was on fire, fighting this man. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to kill him if it meant that I’d never feel this excited again.
We both leaped back, panting with barely-controlled excitement. I became aware of my Darkness energy pulsating ever-stronger from my scythe, and that’s when I realized something.
“You aren’t using your powers.” I accused, “Where’s that fabled Lockheart Darkness I hear so much about? You’re the descendant of Vincent Lockheart- in fact I think that’s even Murzim you’re wielding- and I haven’t seen any of it!”
Michael smirked and gave a light shrug, grasping his claymore one-handed and allowing it to rest at his right side. “To be honest,” he said, “I’m not sure I need it yet.”
That arrogant little shit-
“Though speaking of,” Michael continued, furrowing his brow and biting his lower lip absentmindedly, “Why are you using Darkness only? Cynds, as far as I know, can use all nine of the Elements.”
He paused, smirked, “Are you holding back? Or are you the runt of the pack, only capable of using one element?”
I chuckled lightly at his insinuation. “I’m holding back, yes. I don’t need to call on my mastery of the nine Elements to strike you down.” I held my scythe horizontally in front of me, presenting its full glory to my opponent, “Celeste here and the Darkness she holds will be more than enough for you.”
Michael began to walk forward casually, taking a step at a time. His face still seemed relaxed and confident- is he really going to use that claymore one-handed? Is he really that confident?
I watched him carefully, watching his movements, waiting for him to tense up. At any moment, I was sure, his grip would tighten and his stance would change and he’d move to rapidly cover the distance between us.
Instead, he stopped right in front of me, within arm’s reach. He stared directly into my eyes, and I returned his gaze, taking deep, controlled breaths while doing so. I timed my blinks with his. I waited for the moment the calm would break.
“I’m not usually like this,” he admitted, “But there’s something about you. Something about you that really makes me want to see what you look like, broken and bleeding at my feet.”
He said it with utmost sincerity. Not even malice, really- he seemed just as confused about it as I was. And, I found myself admitting aloud, “I feel the same way.”
“Good.” He said, that insufferable smirk returning, “I wanted to be sure before I did this.”
I saw him tense before he did it. I was watching. I was ready the entire time.
But my heart skipped a beat when I realized that I had far underestimated his speed. And I had the time to think, but not to move, when I further realized that I had made a grave mistake in assuming his Elemental Affinity based on his lineage.
With a surge of Light energy that multiplied his already-great speed, Michael Lockheart slashed his claymore one-handed, tearing the weapon across my chest. In the time it took me to stumble backward and raise the body of my scythe to a defensive position, he was in the windup of another swing.
Quickly channeling the Light energy inside me to boost my speed and reaction time, I dodged swiftly to his left side and swung my scythe horizontally, hoping to gut him.
He moved faster still, sidestepping out of the range of my swing and spinning with the momentum of his claymore. In the midst of his spin, he resumed his two-handed on the white blade and swung it down with brutal force.
In my state of heightened reaction time, I could count the droplets of falling water between us. The world moved in slow motion, but he didn’t. I was moving my scythe to block his downward swing as fast as I could, but comparatively, I was moving underwater while he was as fast as ever.
Barely- just barely- I blocked his claymore by raising my scythe, horizontally, in front of my face. His blade clashed against it with a force that shook me to the core.
I realized quickly that Michael Lockheart was an actual threat to me, and I needed to change my tactics fast.
I released a pulse of Dark energy from Celeste, causing Michael to swiftly leap back and create distance between us. The confident smirk, surprisingly, was gone- his brow was furrowed in concentration and he was pacing himself with slow, deep, measured breaths. He was clearly taking me seriously now.
I closed my eyes and extended my senses into the dark night around us. While being a Cynd meant that I had access to all Nine Elements, I was most in tune with Darkness thanks to my mother. This Darkness Affinity came in handy because it allowed me to extend my senses to the Darkness around us.
I was aware of every shadow cast on that dark, stormy night. Within the radius that Michael and I were fighting, I was now essentially omniscient- especially since the way he radiated Light off of his person pretty much told me exactly where he was at all times.
“You’re going to fight me with your eyes closed?” Michael asked.
I heard his heart pump faster and felt him tense. He was angry. Good. Angry means predictable.
Once again, Michael advanced on me with incredible speed, but before he even reached me I raised my scythe to counter. His claymore clashed against it as expected, an attempt at bisecting me failing miserably.
I felt his energy fluctuate, and without opening my eyes, I rotated swiftly and slashed, splitting his chest open with my scythe as I did so.
I opened my eyes and watched him crash to the ground, observing the extent of the wound on his chest. He was bleeding quite profusely, and I had little doubt I had torn through his pectoral muscles when I had wounded him.
I stared down into his eyes, observing him coldly as he panted and covered his chest with his left, free hand, swearing under his breath and trying vainly to stop the pain from overwhelming him. He still grasped his claymore with his right hand, so hard his knuckles were white and his grip was trembling.
“You’re going into shock.” I informed him, simply, “If you don’t receive medical attention soon, you will die.”
“Fuck you!” Michael spat. He pushed himself into a sitting position, still clutching at his split chest as if it would stop the blood from flowing through his fingers.
“You still have the energy to get away.” I said flatly, “You don’t need to die here, Lockheart.”
“So you’re all talk, then?” Michael taunted, that infuriating smirk on his face again, “You were hot shit earlier! Where’s that killing intent you were so eager to show me?”
I frowned down at him. “It was spur of the moment. I’ve no particular inclination to kill a wounded, defenseless man. I just want to find your siblings.”
“Yeah?” Michael panted, “Yeah, well I haven’t changed my fucking mind. I still want to make a Royal Skewer out of you.”
I chuckled. “You’re on death’s door and you’re still trying to provoke me? Are you an idiot?”
Michael shrugged. “Maybe,” he said, removing his left hand from his chest, “But not as much as you are.”
Wait, he’s not bleeding anymore-
In a flash, Michael threw his claymore at me, one-handed. The speed of his throw and the unexpected timing of his attack meant that I only had time to move slightly to the left, stopping the blade from penetrating my heart but failing to prevent it from impaling me through the right side of my chest.
The force of the blow and the sudden pain that followed caused me to pivot with the force of the blade and lose my grip on my scythe. I regained my footing before I fell and howled in agony, grabbing the handle of the blade inside of me and pulling it out, feeling it tear through my chest as the right side of my body went near-completely numb.
“You little shit!” I snarled, “I was going to spare you!”
Michael laughed at me as he fell back to the grass, spreading his arms wide. He kept laughing as he lost consciousness. Whatever healing spell he had cast had only sealed the wound I’d dealt to him. The internal damage and the shock that came with it had not been mitigated.
I felt his Light start to fade as he fell deeper into oblivion. I wanted to take more joy in this than I did.
I dropped his claymore to the ground and fell to my knees. I realized that I, too, wasn’t going to be able to maintain consciousness with the severity of my wounds.
What a spiteful little shit. He’s going to die, and the last thing he chose to do was try to take me with him instead of accepting my mercy.
Now I had to laugh, too. In a twisted sort of way, it was hilarious, and it told me worlds about the kind of man I had just fought.
I actually think I’ll miss you, you crazy son of a bitch.
The rain pouring on my body grew colder. I felt it sapping the warmth from my body and realized that my eyelids were much too heavy to keep open.
I fell on my face.
My senses of the Darkness around us were the last thing to fade. Through them, I could clearly envision us splayed out in the grass together, mortally wounded and bleeding out in the pouring rain.
There was a kind of beauty in it.